The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Edward Albee

In New York at the moment and not for the first time, a work of Edward Albee's is paired with some of Beckett's. Where Beckett strips away all normality to comment on life, Albee takes a different line. He lets relatively ordinary intellectuals get into situations where only a single element is absurd.

In the case of The Goat, Martin is the greatest architect of his generation, the man chosen to design a Mid-Western Utopia.

This man is happily married and celebrating his 50th birthday by giving a televised interview. The only minor blip in his life with his attractive wife, Stevie, is their 17-year-old son Billy's sexual orientation.

It soon becomes apparent that this is too good to be true and that something is wrong. After the brief suggestion that he might have Alzheimer's, Martin admits to having an affair.

This could be the territory of a thousand sitcoms and soap operas. In Albee's hands, it becomes a surreal allegory on conventional marriage and affairs, as Martin's love turns out to be the "lady" of the title.

From here the play analyses the sad inevitability of sexual desire. Unlike the classic film Harvey and its rabbit, this relationship can only lead to the direst consequences.

Stevie reacts rather like Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, shouting, threatening and throwing furniture and ornaments. Gradually she asserts her power in a way that she may well never previously have done in 22 years of marriage.

Where this beautifully acted black comedy is so clever is in making us look at an old situation afresh. If Sylvia had been a standard bimbo half Martin's age, everything would look the same but the impact would be deadened. The sick jokes would also be nowhere near as good.

Under Albee veteran Anthony Page's direction and in Hildegard Bechtler's wonderfully realistic architect's apartment, Jonathan Pryce and Kate Fahy give great performances as the warring couple. Eddie Redmayne also gains much sympathy as Billy, the confused (and who can blame him?) son.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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